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The first Asian American settlement in the US is being washed away by climate change

St. Malo being destroyed

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    The Filipino American community are striving to preserve their history as the first permanent Filipino settlement in the U.S. is being washed away by climate change. 

    Vanishing history: Due to the climate crisis, St. Malo, a former village along the shore of Lake Borgne in St. Bernard Parish, La., was battered from the sea-level rise of frequent hurricanes and erosion, reported CNN

    • According to History, St. Malo was the first permanent Filipino and first Asian American settlement in the U.S. It dates back to the 19th century when both the Philippines and Louisiana were under Spanish rule.
    • While there are no official documents about the settlement, the history has been passed down through generations orally and through old articles written from “an Orientalist perspective,” Randy Gonzales, an English professor at the University of Louisiana who grew up around the marshlands of St. Malo, told CNN.
    • The settlement’s namesake Juan San Maló led Filipino sailors and indentured servants who escaped the Spanish Galleons in the 1700s. They became known in history as the Manilamen, after the capital city of the Philippines.
    • According to Gonzales, Filipinos built houses out of sticks that were perched over the wetlands. Fishing also became their livelihood as they were able to trade with merchants in New Orleans. 
    St. Malo
    Image via Library of Congress

    Contributions in U.S history: The Manilamen and their families became an integral part of historical battles as well as Louisiana’s multicultural society.

    • The Manilamen are acknowledged for their participation in taking part in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Under the command of President Andrew Jackson, they fought in a battle that secured America’s victory against the British in the War of 1812.
    • They also revolutionized the shrimping industry in the south by introducing the Shrimp Dance, a method that separates shrimp shells from the meat by dancing on piles of shrimp in a circular motion. They provided an effective way of preserving shellfish before refrigeration technology. 
    • As an integral part of Louisiana’s multicultural society, the Manilamen and their families often challenged and erased the racial lines imposed by society.
    • Furthermore, their contributions to the cuisine and architecture of the region persists in the 21st century.

    St. Malo Today: The climate crises have destroyed what was once St. Malo, and it continues to wash away the history and legacy of Filipino Americans in Louisiana. 

    • In 1915, the village of St. Malo was destroyed by a Category 4 hurricane. With their lands and farms gone, the survivors migrated a few miles away and created their own “Manila Village” in the town of Jean Lafitte.
    • However, Manila Village only existed until 1965 when Hurricane Betsy destroyed it permanently. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the research and artifacts relating to the Manilamen and St. Malo. 
    • According to CNN, Filipino Americans in Louisiana have been fighting to tell their story for years. In 2016, the Philippine-Louisiana Historical Society fought for a historical marker for Manila Village, and in 2019, they successfully lobbied for a marker to commemorate St. Malo.
    • With the destruction of St. Malo and the other prominent historical places that came from it, Gonzales explains that the markers will live on but it is the survival of the people who support this Filipino American history that matters.
    • “When people start migrating out, just like the Filipino fishermen who migrated away from St. Malo, when people from Lafitte start migrating out, the stories will be lost even further,” Gonzales stated. 

    Featured Image via Harper’s Weekly via CNN

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